Visit the Business section of any major bookshop and you will find a yard and a half of change management text books. Each setting out the authors 'Framework for Change', proffered as THE systematic and step by step guide to effective delivery of business transformation.

Equally every major consultancy or project management qualification will offer its 'own-brand' methodology as a USP for their services.

There are several good reasons for the growth of this cottage industry of framework development around change management. First and foremost, while the language and structure may vary, most frameworks will ensure that the fundamentals of defining the change and engaging positively with key stakeholders and audiences are delivered.  More practically, standardising methodology across a programme or even a business avoids much unnecessary re-invention of documentation, tools, templates; enabling knowledge transfer and underpinning continuous improvement as experience accumulates. Finally, there is the benefit that if the chosen framework is used consistently, over time the business develops a degree of comfort with the language and rhythm of change, a key component of change resilience. The positive spin-off being that a communicable framework can make a notoriously intangible aspect of transformation delivery more accessible for sponsors, project managers and other stakeholders. The downside risk is that over-reliance on methodology risks reducing change management to a 'paint by numbers' exercise.

What differentiates smart change managers is the ability and confidence to recognise when to play it tight and when to play it loose.  A rounded and holistic approach to change supported by a clearly defined set of milestones, deliverables and metrics that are owned by the project and embedded in the overall project plan is a fundamental hygiene factor for any change manager. The art that comes with experience is to retain a clear line of sight on the desired outcome and be confident to flex the change management approach as the project unfolds and new perspectives or challenges emerge.

For example, this might mean:

  • Deciding on whether to complete a task by bringing the relevant people together in a workshop setting or by iterating with them individually. Neither is wrong, it just depends on  whether the value is in the outcome or the process of getting to it. For example, in my experience, well facilitated workshops for - say - change impact analysis or role mapping are golden opportunities not just to secure the necessary outputs quickly but also to enable a step change in understanding as the business participants share their knowledge of the solution.
  • Choosing between a top-down or a bottom-up engagement approach depending on the culture and characters involved. If the prevailing mode is hierarchic or autocratic, starting at the top is the smart move. In more consensual environments, a broader and more consultative approach may yield a better outcome. A smart change manager will take a flexible approach, creating bespoke engagement strategies depending on the nature of the stakeholder environment while holding tight to the need to track outcomes and using them to evolve the approach as the project unfolds.
  • Timing an activity not only based on the plan dates but taking account of the dependencies and urgencies involved. It is worth establishing whether the required level of insight has developed to enable the desired output and/or whether the audience have the energy and enthusiasm to give the required impetus to the task. This can be particularly true for 'Lessons Learned' or 'Change Embedment' activities where the need to capture the output while the experience is fresh can be at odds with the availability or energy levels of a team that may have just completed a particularly arduous phase of the project or are potentially already disbanding and heading on to their next challenge.

Outcome-led change management demands a more dynamic approach to planning, executing and  tomanaging the expectations of the many and varied stakeholders who depend on those outcomes. The return on this investment is being able to deliver more effective and sustainable change.

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